Life in the time of CoRONA #3

Let me say from the outset, this post is purely an exercise in thinking and does not represent my specific belief system (which, by the way, even I am not sure of). But travel down this path with me and see what thinking it evokes in you…

When I was a young teenager, more than one person (maybe in the neighborhood of 25) told me that I thought too much. I would ask questions that really didn’t have answers and that I only asked because they were matters of curiosity for me- and I really didn’t expect to get any satisfactory answers. However, the adults around me somehow felt that they needed to give me some response- so usually it was “you think too much.”

One of the things I used to think about was the whole concept of the Messianic Era. How could it possibly unfold? I mean here we are billions of people on earth. Even with all of our modern communication, how would the world get prepared? How would the messiah (however one conceives of such a being) make him/her/it/self known and even be accepted. How would the whole scenario unfold? I simply could not conceive of any mechanism that would work.

And now what is happening? People who were traveling have returned/are returning home- business people, tourists, and yes, even the young Israelis who go traveling after the Army. Students in overseas programs are returning to their homes. Not only that, but people are working from home. Parents are dealing with their children day after day with little respite aside from electronic media. Restaurants, pubs, movie theaters, bowling alleys, gyms, swimming pools- all are closed.

People leave their homes only to buy food and pharmacy items and for short walks. We have cars, but nowhere to go.

Those who looked forward to traveling and/or going to hotels for Passover, will be at home with the nuclear family.

We have no need to dress up to impress others or put on makeup. Appointments and activities that filled our days are gone. Our calendars are blank.

We are hoping to stop the spread of this virus. But, are we in preparation for something bigger, more important? Is this the world’s “wake-up call?” Could it be that we are on the verge of a fundamental change in the world and how we humans act in it? Now that we know that we all are vulnerable, now that we know that we need to protect each other, now that it’s quiet enough to hear that still, small voice- is something extraordinary in store?

Life in the time of CoRONA #2

Musings:

Human beings have a desire to understand the world. Hence all of those cute little people who as soon as they can talk begin asking “why.” OK, sometimes it’s why can my big brother or sister have some treat/experience that I can’t. But some of us have noticed that “why” is a generalized attempt to make sense of the world.

Well, folks, here we are in the time of Corona. Even were my father alive, I doubt if he would be able to remember the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. He was born in December of 1917. So pretty much none of us have vivid memories of that time. It was also an age before mass communication so even through millions of people were affected, there was little awareness of the massive scope of the epidemic.

So I have been mulling the “why.” Here’s what I have some up with so far- and I invite you to add or comment:

  1. Maybe we are being taught that all humankind is in one boat. No matter where we live, what color our skin is, what language we speak, whether we are rich or poor, young or old, no matter what our skills or disabilities, no matter whether we are educated or illiterate, beautiful or ugly- all of us are at risk. We also are learning that all of us can be helpers and that all of us are responsible for the health and well-being of others because we know that we can, just by our presence be exposing a friend, a relative, or a stranger to an illness that may cause them suffering and even death.
  2. Maybe the earth needed a bit of rest. We have been driving our cars, flying around in aircraft- maybe slowing down, taking a rest, is allowing the earth too to renew itself.
  3. Maybe we are being taught humility. Somewhere in the late 60s or the 70s of the last century, there blossomed a self-esteem movement. That was when teachers were told to praise children’s work so that they would feel good about themselves and supposedly achieve more. No more was there a winner and a runner-up only. Now there were all sorts of participation certificates and trophies. Children were encouraged to feel proud of whatever they did whether they really worked at it or not. That education accomplished its goal. More and more of the population believes that they are stellar in their knowledge and performance. People who don’t are embarrassed that they can’t be a Van Gogh when they are painting or a Yo Yo Ma when they are playing an instrument. People speak as if they are experts despite having little knowledge and training in the field that they are declaiming about. Oh yes, many lay people these days are sure about the Corona virus (Covid-19) when they have read the opinions and estimates of experts who themselves are not sure. Or how many people are certain that this is a plot by the government/the media/ who knows? for some nefarious purpose? How about an honest “I don’t know, and I don’t like the uncertainty.” How about a little humility?
  4. Maybe we are learning that who really counts is our family. Forced family time can at first seem daunting, but as we actually spend time with these people when we have the time for them, we may discover that we like them a whole lot more for the clever, funny, sweet people they are. (OK, granted some family members may not fill those descriptions, but hopefully once you’re stuck with them, you will find a way to co-exist that is acceptable to all parties).
  5. Maybe all humankind needed a global slap in the face to get its act together- to stop hurting each other, to stop finding meaning in murder, terror, deception, and violence. Maybe we should be learning that we need to have kindness and compassion and work cooperatively for everyone’s good.
  6. Maybe we are being taught to live in the moment- because at this point it is impossible to plan for the future. We don’t know when the pandemic will be over and we don’t know what the condition of the world will be when it is. Will we ever return to the world we were used to?
  7. Maybe it’s just a virus.

Jerusalem

 

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Can it possibly be 50 years?

I was a newly married college student. We were living in Valley Station, KY, about 1/2 hour from Fort Knox where my husband served as a chaplain. We were awaiting the birth of our first child.

The tense days of May had us anxious and nervous. The Straits of Tiran were closed and Arab armies were massed on all of Israel’s borders.

We flew to a conference in Washington DC and listened to reassuring words from Hubert Humphry. But we did not feel confident. Meanwhile, inside, a new little life stirred, growing every more energetic as the days passed.

I flew to Philadelphia, My senior year of college was done at the University of Louisville- with the acquiescence of Temple University that granted my degree in philosophy, but in order to finish my degree in Hebrew Literature at Gratz College, I had to study with a local rabbi, with my husband, and on my own the same curriculum as my classmates and return to Philadelphia to take final exams.

June 5, 1967, I was sitting in the Gratz library taking my first exam when the librarian turned on the radio. I thought it was rude for her to do that while I was trying to write an exam, but then another person entered the library and they exchanged the information that the war had started.

What could I do? I wrote my exams while listening to the same news over and over again on the radio when suddenly the lights went out as did the radio and the air conditioning. Later we found out that there was a major power outage along the east coast and some wondered if it could have been related to the war.

News coverage was weak. The same news rehashed and rehashed. The Egyptians reported that they had shot down more planes than Israel had. They reported great victories. The Israel news stayed silent. None of  us knew what was happening.

After two days of exams, I sat in my parents’ house with the TV on embroidering a challah cover. I worked on it very slowly and carefully. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be an heirloom- something the little baby I was waiting for would treasure.

And then the word finally came. “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” I still get tears in my eyes thinking about that most miraculous day when finally Jews could enter the city that for 19 years they had only seen from afar. I felt such a feeling of completeness. The world was being repaired. The pain was being alleviated. The scars were soon to be healed.

Days later we watched on TV the thousands and thousands of people streaming into the Old City to celebrate Shavuot. What elation I felt! My baby would only know an Israel that was whole and strong.

I returned to Fort Knox at the end of June with the challah cover and the baby mostly completed. About 6 weeks later, our son was born. My heart was full. Here was a new beginning, the embodiment of a prayer for peace.

Be careful out there

There are a lot of tragedies that are totally unpreventable. People are struck with illnesses that happened without cause or warning. A person walks down the street and is struck by a car that veers onto the pavement. A terrorist decides to murder a bunch of people and you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But there are tragedies that can be prevented. Adults can be mindful of carrying or drinking hot liquids when there are small children present. One can equip one’s home with smoke detectors. One can drive safely paying attention to the road instead of the mobile phone. One can check the car before leaving it to make sure there are no children left in it– And there are lists of many such safeguards.

What prompted me to write is a recent tragedy of a young person who had gone on a trip far from home. In Israel it is common for young people to travel after high school or Army or university. And every year we hear of healthy, beautiful young people dying tragically on these journeys. Certainly, not all of these tragedies could have been prevented, but people traveling need to pay special attention to their healthy and safety.

1. As many books as you have read and people you have talked to, you still don’t know this foreign country that you are visiting. You don’t know where it is safe to walk and where it is not. “It feels safe” is not a good measure of safety. A few years ago my husband and I were in Peru. A friend had told us that we should check out the Inquisition Museum in Lima. So one bright Sunday morning we set out on foot to find the museum. We were in the center of town and we knew the museum was only a couple of blocks away. We walked across a bridge onto a pedestrian mall and stopped to get a coke and suddenly two people came to us and said, “You need to leave here.” We were puzzled. Who were these people and why were they telling us to leave? Were they going to strong-arm us into some alley and take our papers and money and camera? They were very insistent and we were in public in full daylight, so we walked with them. As we walked with them they explained that locals target tourists in this area, knock them down, and take their valuables. As we came back to the bridge, our companions wished us well and left. Would someone have attacked us? I don’t know. I do know that we thought that where we were walking was safe and that the people who stopped us had no ulterior motive.

The dangerous pedestrian mall The dangerous pedestrian mall

2. Because you don’t know these countries and most likely don’t speak their native language, you need to make sure that you are in good physical condition before you leave home. Check with your doctor to see if there is any reason why this travel might not be advisable. Make sure you check as to whether you need inoculations for the area you will visit. Make sure that you carry in your hand luggage any medications you regularly take and bring along over the counter remedies for things like headaches, upset stomachs, and digestive disorders. ALWAYS buy medical insurance before you travel anywhere. Once we had a woman traveling with us in Hangzhou, China, who missed a step of the side of a very gradual incline. She broke her leg! Because she had medical insurance, the ambulance to the local hospital, the treatment there, the ambulance back to the hotel, the ambulance to the ambulance plane and the plane ride to Beijing as well as the doctor’s visit in Beijing (to certify her worthy to fly back home) and two first class seats home all were paid for by insurance. The insurance probably saved her tens of thousands of dollars, and such an accident could happen to anyone.
Hangzhou

3. Different trips present different challenges. If you are traveling to a place that is sunny, sunscreen, sunglasses, and appropriate clothing are important. If you are traveling to a cold place, of course you need cold weather gear. Travelers can become dehydrated, so carrying a bottle of water with you and DRINKING from it is important!! If you are going to high altitudes, read up on symptoms of altitude sickness. Understand that it can be fatal. It’s not something you can “tough out.” There are medicines that doctors prescribe to counteract the effects of altitude and getting to altitude slowly over a period of days may help, but at the first sign of altitude sickness, it is time to move lower, immediately. In Kathmandu, the local Chabad emissary lends satellite phones to trekkers so that they can be rescued in the event they are suffering from altitude sickness or exposure to cold temperatures. Recently the rabbi sent a helicopter to rescue two girls who are now alive because they were smart enough to take a phone with them.

Mount Everest as seen from the air Mount Everest as seen from the air

Chabad House, Kathmandu- doing mitzvot at the top of the world!

4. Many people, particularly young people, enjoy extreme sports. They require special insurance coverage. Without it, in the event of an accident, they have no one to come and rescue them and no medical coverage. It is important to note that safety standards in some countries are not as strict as in others. Regular inspections of zip lines (omegas) and bungee apparatuses are common in many countries, but there are countries that rely on good luck. A few years ago I had a great time on a zip line in Mindo, Ecuador. About two years later, the apparatus failed and someone was killed. Would I go on it again in Mindo? Not so fast. How can I be sure that the authorities are more conscientious than they were then? In addition, many times young people do not listen to instructions for safe conduct on extreme sports. Before we rode on our snowmobile in Finland, we were outfitted with proper cold weather gear and helmets and we listened carefully to instructions that ended up keeping one couple safe when their vehicle overturned. They were fine, but listening to the instructions is what saved them from broken bones. A recent tragedy while white water rafting could have been prevented if the young people had listened to a local person who warned them that the water was at that time much too rough.

The zip line that later failed The zip line that later failed
Our snowmobile adventure Our snowmobile adventure

Travel is fun! Adventures are the best! But be cautious. Even if you are young, you are not indestructible. The people who love you are waiting at home for your safe return. Please please please…. stay safe!!!!

May 27 2014

Most of my life has been a surprise.

I was surprised when I found out other children came from loving homes that were not at the whim of a mother’s radical mood swings.

I was surprised, that despite what my mother told me, I found someone who was happy to marry me and stick with me through the years.

I was surprised at the depth of love I felt for my babies, my children, my teenagers- even when I was pretty sure they would cause me to go out of my mind.

I was surprised that I was able to fulfill impossible dreams- it was as if everything I imagined I could never accomplish became possible: Teaching Lamaze courses, becoming a doula, becoming a family therapist, becoming a supervisor and teacher of family therapy, and becoming a tour guide in exotic places!

I was surprised that when my children grew up, they would have lots of children and amazed at what good parents they became.

I was surprised at how easy my transition to living in Israel was and am constantly surprised at how much I am aware of the blessing of living here.

I was surprised each year on my birthday, because the years are flying by and while I still think of myself in my 20s or 30s, most of my children are older than that.

My life has been filled with surprises, and I am grateful.

Surprise! It's a begonia!

Surprise! It’s a begonia!

Slow motion

At times when I am very busy, when the tendency is to become unsettled, upset, panicked, I employ a coping mechanism that works for me. I think the idea actually came from the opening of the old TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man. Whichever show it was showed someone running very fast, but in slow motion. He’s making all of the rapid moves, but slowly.

I picture that slow running man when I am in situations that require a lot of thinking and a high level of activity. I picture myself slowing down, taking things much more slowly than usual. The background music becomes slower, softer, more gentle. So do the thoughts swirling around in my head. By slowing down, I avoid all of the hazards of haste- the frenzied movements, things being misplaced, bumping into things, feeling stressed.

I have my list. I do things one at a time. And I take my time.

Hanging out with my buddies


(and I stay less focused)

If you really loved me…

I have been a family therapist for a very long time. I should have figured it out sooner, but only yesterday I realized that I had been missing something very important when thinking about certain types of cases.

From time to time I would have cases where one family member would say about another “if s/he really loved me s/he would…”

Tests of loyalty, to me, seem so beside the point. In fact, they seem foolish. Why would we expect someone to “prove” they love us by performing a specific task or acting in a manner we prescribe?  The people we love are separate from us. They have their own loves and hates, likes and dislikes, ways of expressing themselves. They show us love in their own way.

However, in this type of a relationship, they may show warmth and consideration, but heaven forbid, if they fail the litmus test the other has created, the whole relationship is at risk.

Sometimes, couples, in order to feel more appreciated and loved,  have to adjust the ways in which they show love. She would like flowers. He shows love by filling up the car. He would like homemade soup. She lights romantic candles. They clearly love each other, but by asking for the show of love to be more in line with their own concept of love, both members could feel more valued and cared for.

,

But that is different than a test of love.

Tests of love usually involve one person expecting the other to know what s/he wants and to do it, despite any obstacles. And then, if it doesn’t happen, well, then “s/he doesn’t really love me.”

But let’s look a little closer…

Who is making the relationship contingent on specific behaviors. It’s not the “uncaring” husband or wife or friend or relative. It’s the person who has decided that the relationship consists of a series of tests all of which must be passed for it to continue to be loving.

Who has the problem?

As a therapist, it seems to me that the person who is making the statement “If you really loved me…” is in fact the person with the problem. S/he has not learned the nature of relationships. Relationships are formed between two individuals, both of whom have wants, needs, and limitations.  Appreciating the other person as a distinct individual is the only way to have a truly satisfying relationship.

When ultimatums exist in relationships, it is not the person who fails to meet them who is the problem.

Fairy godmothers

OK, I’m not really talking about fairy godmothers, but I thought it might be a topic that people were curious about.

Well, actually, yes, I am talking about fairy godmothers, but not in the fictional sense.

There is a concept without a name (at least one that I am familiar with) that I would like to explore. If it’s been written about before, I would love to hear about it, so please let me know.

Having grown up in a home that wasn’t the most nurturing, I had to find validation other places. Here’s where I found it: there were teachers who smiled at me, there were my aunts who made me feel loved, and there were my grandmothers. All of these people were, to some extent, fairy godmothers. They were around sometimes and it was often merely their presence in my mind that formed for me a safety net in the world. As long as they were around, even if only in recent memory, I felt loved and supported. As a group, it felt as if I was encircled by them and protected.

As the years went by and I learned how to appreciate my own value and accomplishments, I didn’t need fairy godmothers so much. But still there were my parents there in the background, out of sight, but still potential supports. After the death of my father, I substituted my uncles in his role of standing behind me, supporting me.

Somewhere in my 30s or 40s, I began to realize that I took the place of fairy godmother for some Lamaze students I taught and some clients I worked with as a therapist. They carried me in their pocket or their mind or their heart, to take out when they needed reinforcement and stability and, I guess, love. I only knew, because they told me.

As time goes on, I realize the world is full of fairy godmothers. They are the people who are in our lives who just by their being there, even when they are far away, give us affirmation and strength. As we get older, often they are mentors, peers, and nowadays, facebook friends– people whose presence enriches our lives.

Often, our fairy godmothers don’t know the function they have in our lives. Often, we don’t realize it until they are no longer around.

So today, look around at your fairy godmothers. Figure out who they are. And appreciate how they have made your life better, just by being there.

And then, think about whose fairy godmother you are, because whether you know it or not, someone who is not in your family– who you may see only occasionally, someone’s life is better just because you are in it.

Ooof!

One of the things that people learn when they move to a new country with a new language is that exclamations differ from those they were raised with. In English, pain evokes an “ouch!” In Hebrew, it’s “Ay-ah!” Frustration in Hebrew evokes an “Ooof!” I’ll admit it; I forgot the English.

So why am I frustrated? It actually has to do with the fact that there is so much right with my life these days. I am feeling healthy, have kept off the weight I lost, and have no problem maintaining a healthy diet. We recently witnessed the graduation from high school of our oldest granddaughter and the awarding of a PhD to our son-in-law. My husband and I had a great honeymoon getaway for our 45th anniversary, and our children invited us to a wonderful dinner celebration in its honor, bringing along a nice sampling of well-behaved gorgeous grandchildren. We are in a state of high preparation for the tour we are leading to Vietnam and Cambodia and are looking forward to a week of fun in Thailand on our way back. In the fall, after the holidays, we’ll be taking a trip to the US and when we get back, I’ll be teaching marriage and family therapy once again. And then, best of all, we prepare for my sister’s aliya!

The blessing of a beautiful garden in Israel, filled with gorgeous plants and fruit trees brings with it the worry of the health of our gorgeous plum tree that has been attacked by some type of a worm. The blessing of a great apartment that we are renting out brings with it the work of cleaning it thoroughly between occupants. The blessing of being close to our children brings day to day discussions and concerns about the types of issues that remote grandparents never hear of.

So why am I frustrated?

I guess it’s because I wish I could split myself in two or three or four in order to give adequate time and attention to all of the wonderful people and things in my life.

I worry about letting people down.

Ooof!

Click on pictures for full images!

And so on…

I have been asked to continue writing about getting older. As I said, it’s not a subject that brings great joy, although I do remember asking my father how was it for him to grow older and he said, “It beats the alternative.”

So here goes…

In our teens, the world is all in front of us. Life seemingly will go on forever. We think about what we will do in the future. It’s all about getting more educated, more intelligent, more savvy, more involved, and taking on more and more responsibility.

When we are young adults, we begin to move toward our goals as best we can. There may be bumps in the road, but we have time.

Those of us who marry and have children spend the next years so involved in day to day life that at some point as the children reach adolescence, we think, “When did the time pass?” Suddenly, we are the older generation.

The children grow up and get married and that is good. And then, babies appear. Oh, they are so cute and lovable and sweet. And then we realize, we are grandparents. How did that happen?

But we are still young and active, or so we feel. As much as we look forward to retirement, the 50s and early 60s have us working at the top of our game.

And then, while we are still feeling like we’re in our 30s or 40s, that ugly number 65 appears.

And suddenly we realize that in the best of cases, we have more to look back on than to look forward to. In front of us is decline.

So we again focus on each day. We set up events to look forward to. We go out to eat. We meet friends. We travel to faraway places. We live each day fully.

But the world looks different.

The small concerns about falling or about having a strange lump or bump or reaction to an insect bite suddenly appear to be a threat that finally something is going to get you… because like it or not, at some age, you begin to realize you won’t live forever and then any threat to one’s health becomes a reason for concern. Maybe this is the thing that’s going to get me.

Of course I need to admit that when I was about 33, I had a lump on my arm, just below my elbow. For weeks, or maybe months, I was afraid to go to the doctor to ask what it was. I began having dreams about swimming around in circles with my one arm (they’d apparently amputated the other) and decided that it was time to see the doctor. I don’t even remember what he said, but it was truly nothing and I can still swim straight. But I do tend to envision the worst possible outcome when something is wrong and when I don’t, I tell myself that I am in denial… And, I think it gets worse the older I get.

Let’s hope I have another 40 years or so to worry….